Author: Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
This engaging series of childhood recollections tells about an ideal school in Tokyo during World War II that combined learning with fun, freedom, and love. This unusual school had old railroad cars for classrooms, and it was run by an extraordinary man – its founder and headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi – who was a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity.
This blurb does NOT do the book any justice.
I got this book as a birthday gift from one of my best friends at school (thanks, Ditsa!). When I began reading it, I had no idea how much of sadness it would leave me with. Indeed, it started out in a fun manner, showing us the crazy but endearingly innocent personality of a small girl, Totto chan. She’s fascinated by the desks at school because she’s never seen one before, so she bangs her own desk repeatedly (and in such a way that she doesn’t even have to break the rules for it). She calls out to the band musicians to play for her and her classmates, talks to the birds and asks them what they’re doing, is massively impressed by trains and tickets…
Can you see a glimpse of your own childhood self there? I definitely did.
Unfortunately, her class teacher isn’t equipped enough to deal with the all crazy whims of this child, so Totto chan gets expelled. Thereafter, she gets sent to another school, Tomoe, which is really more of a fun laboratory-cum-home than a school. Students study inside train-carriages (which actually comprise the school building) and can study whatever they want, whenever they want. If they do well throughout the day, they are taken on fun walks (and unknowingly get their practical lessons done that way, through all the discussions and explorations). The sports days are exceptionally brilliant, where children are advised to wear their worst, dirtiest clothes, so that there’s no fear of getting them ruined. And oh, the prizes! 😀 Everything is just so simple in such a meticulous way, that it’s perfect. And there’s Headmaster Kobayashi, who’s so much like a father figure that you crave to have a headmaster like him in real life. I mean, Totto chan kept rambling for four whole hours, non-stop, and this man just kept listening!
However, war is going on. And as usual, it destroys everything. And with every bit of destruction that took place in the pages, my heart died a little more. It’s the story of a child, but it’s not a child’s story after all.
Overall, this book was great. The plot isn’t much and the writing style is simple and free-flowing, but it certainly touched my heart. The characters were so real, it hurt me to see the way things ended up. But then again, what else would you expect from a book that features a child living during WWII?